ninth symphony films - movie reviews

FRIDA (2002)

DIRECTOR  -  julie taymor

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  drama

LENGTH  -  120 minutes

RELEASED  -  25 december 2002

DISTRIBUTOR  -  miramax


ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $12,000,000
frida - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from frida at

buy the dvd from frida at

chronicals the life of mexican painter frida kahlo.

was the opening film of the venice international film festival.


picture from frida

picture from frida

picture from frida


three out of four possible stars

Frida might have been more accurately titled, "Frida and Diego" because of the emphasis placed on the relationship between the characters of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Played by Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina, respectively, these two characters spend the most time on the screen, and it seems unfair to Alfred, who gives just as affecting a performance as Salma, to leave his character's name off the title. Although the storyline follows more directly on the events of Frida's life, she would not have been the person she was, if not for Diego.

For better or for worse, these two people were such a part of one another that separating them into two people is almost impossible. So many of their emotional trials occurred because of one another. But the structure of the title aside, both Hayek and Molina give very impressive performances and really inhabit their characters every moment that they are on the screen. Salma Hayek's strong physical resemblance to real-life painter, Frida Kahlo, notwithstanding, her performance as this character is probably one of the most impressive of her career. She has garnered varied amounts of praise for her English speaking roles in the past, but her devotion to playing this character is evident in every scene she's in.

It is no secret that Salma labored for years to win this role and be the actress to portray the artist's life on the screen. And her efforts have resulted in a better than average biopic. Although it could never be termed, "stunning," it is, nevertheless, a powerful film that brings its audience the full length of Frida Kahlo's very interesting life. Part of what makes this movie worth seeing through to the end is the varied twists and turns that occurred in Kahlo's life. She was no small-town woman whose life followed a common path. From her radical political beliefs to her alternative lifestyle with her husband, Kahlo seemed to breathe controversy every day of her life.

And it is a story that translated well to the screen. With the combined elements of the beautiful, yet subtle cinematography to the short animated sequences that litter the film, not only is the story of Frida interesting, but it is worth watching as well. One could probably watch the film without its soundtrack and it would still be worth viewing. The visual style of the picture is very off center and is an intelligent mirror for Frida's actual life. The Frida known to the world though her paintings is perfectly realized through the cinematography of this film.

It is as if the director and cinematographer took the style of Frida's paintings and used them as a base for the visual look of the film. And the bold and primary colors used by the art director and the costume designer seemed plucked right out of one of Frida's paintings. It is so obvious that the people behind the camera were perfectly in sync with those in front of it and the movie seems very fluid because of it. The decade of work that it took to bring this story to the screen is just so easy to see. And hear. Because the soundtrack is just as vibrant. Elliot Goldenthal chose to mix a standard dramatic score with distinctive sound of Mexican rhythms and, just like the art direction, it is a mirror of Kahlo's work, frenetic and powerful.

The supporting characters make for good listening as well, especially Ashley Judd's portrayal as Tina Modotti, a member of Frida and Diego's artistic group of friends. Although the blonde actress is not the first person to come to mind for the portrayal of a Mexican woman, she still carries the small part off exceedingly well and makes a worthwhile contribution to the film. As do Antonio Banderas and Edward Norton, both of which have very small roles, really round out the picture. It is safe to say that there is no lack of good performances in this film. The only faults in the film seem to come from the direction of the story and the time it takes to tell that story.

Since the film is based on the true life of a person, it probably wasn't an option for the filmmakers to create many surprises, but the dramatic turns of the story aren't always impressive enough. And that makes the two-hour running time seem somewhat longer than it should. For the sake of good storytelling, the filmmakers could have chosen to "dramatize" certain elements of Frida Kahlo's life, but it might be just as well that they didn't. Telling the true story of Frida's life was probably a better ethical decision by the screenwriters (though there are four screenwriters), as lying about her life would have decreased the film's educational value. In Frida the truth is beautiful and captivating, and its slow moments are worth wading through to enjoy some fine performances and creative filmmaking.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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